Witness: Omar Mateen drank alone at Pulse before attack
Gal Tziperman Lotan , Paul Brinkmann and Rene Stutzman
Contact Reporters Staff Writers
June 13, 2016
FORT PIERCE — At least four regular customers at the Orlando gay nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people said Monday that they had seen Omar Mateen there before.
"Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent," Ty Smith said.
More details emerged Monday about the 29-year-old gunman and what he did in the days leading up to the massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
He was at Walt Disney World in April, said a Disney manager who requested anonymity.
FBI Director James Comey said his agency was trying to nail down that report and the possibility that Mateen was scouting the amusement park as a potential target, the Associated Press reported.
Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times.
"We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times," Smith said. "He told us he had a wife and child."
When asked about those sightings, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said he had no information.
Another Pulse regular, Kevin West, told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen messaged him on and off for a year using a gay chat app.
They had never met, West said, but he watched as Mateen entered the club about 1 a.m. Sunday, an hour before the shooting began.
Mateen was the security guard, born in New Hyde Park, NY., who walked into the club about 2 a.m. Sunday with a semiautomatic pistol and an assault rifle. While dance music blared, he opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring 53.
He died three hours later in a shootout with the Orlando Police Department SWAT team when it stormed the building.
During the standoff, Mateen proclaimed his allegiance to the Islamic State and his support for the Muslim brothers who set off two bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon, police said.
Late Monday came word that Mateen’s wife, Noor Zahi Salman, was not cooperating with authorities, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Investigators want to ask if she knew about his plans in advance or helped him scout out targets.
The official said they have talked extensively with Mateen’s ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, who told reporters Sunday that the gunman was bi-polar and sometimes violent.
Mateen bought the weapons he used — a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol and .223-caliber assault rifle — at St. Lucie Shooting Center a few days before the massacre. Owner Edward Henson on Monday said he "vaguely" remembered him.
"He’s a nobody," said Henson. "He’s a customer. He came and purchased his guns, and he left."
Although the FBI investigated Mateen for possible connections to Muslim terrorists in 2013 and 2014, they closed those cases, concluding he was not a threat, Comey said.
Nothing in Mateen’s background prohibited him from legally buying those guns, and the head of the state agency that oversees gun permits in Florida told reporters Monday that the system worked the way it was designed, The News Service of Florida reported.
Mateen applied for a state security guard license, the type that allows the holder to carry a firearm, and he got one, said Adam Putnam, state agriculture commissioner. Mateen was a U.S. citizen, had no criminal record and passed a psychological test.
He was eligible to buy as many guns as he liked because he was not a convicted felon, and was not facing a felony charge or a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. He was not a drug abuser, a fugitive, the subject of a domestic violence injunction, someone who was in the country illegally, someone who had been dishonorably discharged from the military or someone who had been found by a judge to be mentally incompetent.
"You cannot be deprived of rights because of an accusation," said Eileen Rieg, a former gun shop owner in Orlando who now operates a security guard training company. She said she was troubled that the FBI had not earlier found enough evidence to make an arrest.
More details emerged Monday, too, about Maheen’s background, much of it related to law enforcement.
When he was 19, Mateen was injured when a St. Lucie County Sheriff’s deputy lost control of his cruiser while racing to the scene of an automobile crash, according to a report.
Mateen was a passenger in the patrol car, taking part in a citizen ride-along, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bryan Beaty.
In 2006 he worked at a state prison — Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown — for six months, according to Florida Department of Corrections.
That same year, he earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Indian River Community College, according to school spokesman Robert Lane. That’s a degree required to become a law enforcement officer in Florida.
In 2007, he was hired by G4S, a private security firm based in Jupiter. His assignment at the time of his death: working as a security guard at a gated retirement community in South Florida, the company reported.
Before that, G4S assigned him, for a time, to the St. Lucie County Courthouse in Fort Pierce, a gig that ended in 2013, according to court Administrator Thomas Genung.
Cord Cedeno and Chris Callen are other Pulse customers who told the Sentinel they had seen Mateen in the nightclub.
Callen said he had witnessed violent outbursts by Mateen.
"It was definitely him. He’d come in for years, and people knew him," Cedeno said.
Staffers Lauren Ritchie, David Fleshler, Elyssa Cherney, David Harris and Brian Bennett contributed to this report.